I recently put together an article for the blog PositivePsychology.com on exactly what it takes to have a satisfying, fulfilling job.
After hours poring over the literature, hunting for all the criteria, I whittled it down to 6 core ingredients.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of those factors touched on strengths.
Whether or not we’re able to leverage the innate, positive facets of our personality at work is an important predictor of fulfilment.
More than that, when people describe having a ‘calling’, or sense of ‘purpose’, there’s a good chance their career is aligned with their strengths.
But here’s the thing…
Ask the average person to speak about their strengths – especially in front of others – and you’ll likely get one of two reactions:
- Full body cringe (the commonest scenario)
- An enthusiastic, confident answer (when does that ever happen though, really?)
You might think this isn’t a problem. You might even think it’s a sign of humility. But over time, the cost of disowning our inner power can be tremendous.
I think one cause of this, especially in cultures where self-deprecation is the norm, is that we internalise a harmful idea from a young age. We’re warned not to relish in our strengths too much, lest we come across as arrogant, or make others feel bad about themselves.
If you’re reading this right now and internally protesting (“but I’m the exception! I don’t excel at anything!”), then you’re probably a victim of exactly this type of social conditioning. I’ve been in that boat. I spent much of my own life shying away from my strength and disconnecting from the positive parts of myself.
Here’s a question to reflect on, in all seriousness:
Is it possible you’re a genius, without knowing it?
Think about it.
Do you already possess all the gifts needed to take your career (and life) from your definition of average to your definition of phenomenal? To discover a way of working based on how you work best?
I’m certain he answer is yes for every person. Not to say it’s easy – reconnecting with our gifts can be the tricky part.
The Truth About Strengths
One thing we get totally upside down is our approach to strengths. Unfortunately, it begins at a tender age:
“Amy’s the best at spelling”
“Simon’s the fastest runner”
“Lucy came top in the class in French”
While ‘spelling’, ‘running’ and ‘speaking French’ are indeed strengths, they’re skill-based rather than character-based.
Why is this distinction important? Because we place too much value on the former, and not enough on the latter.
I moved into adulthood believing all I had to offer – professionally-speaking – was a narrow repertoire of skills. I even thought these skills (such as being able to reel off a drug’s mechanism of action, or detect a patient’s enlarged liver) gave me worth.
This mentality didn’t initially serve me well when leaving medicine. Without being able to use all the skills I’d gained, I was forced to ask myself some intimidating questions:
> Without practising as a doctor, what value will I have?
> What am I really on this earth to do?
> Who even am I?
My reflections delivered an important lesson: skills are not the main fuel source in our lives. Whenever I’ve thrived in work (or life), it was because I had the opportunity to flex my core character strengths:
> My love of understanding how people work
> My enjoyment of deep, honest, intimate conversation
> My inexplicable drive for creative expression
Ironically, it’s character strengths which drive skill acquisition in the first place! Without a growth mindset, love of learning and sense of curiosity, for instance, I wouldn’t have achieved a fraction as much as I have so far.
But more than that, character strengths infuse our lives with enjoyment, success and fulfilment. And their sum total makes up our unique brand of genius.
That brings us back to the same question:
Is it possible you’re a genius, without knowing it?
The root of the word genius is the Latin gignere’ meaning to ‘give birth’ or ‘bring forth’. It’s no coincidence that the word ‘genuine’ can be traced back to this same root.
When you’re being yourself – in other words, genuine – your strengths emerge naturally. And then you sort of give birth to yourself, alongside your unique brand of genius.
On the other hand, when you’re faking strengths that don’t come naturally, your genuine ones don’t get to come out and play. But they’re very much present, underneath the pretence.
Digging For Treasure
When it comes to unique ability, you’re already sitting on a goldmine. Sometimes you just need to dig for treasure.
Just make sure don’t get hung up on the word ‘unique’.
Think about strengths which are unusual in your immediate circle of family and friends. Millions of other people may well have a similar blend of strengths, but that still makes you a rarity among people you know. It still makes you a genius in your own quirky way.
Approach this laterally. Think outside the box.
What can you do that others can’t? What do people often ask you for help with? What activities can you get lost in? What types of information can you remember easily?
Spot patterns, look for themes and figure out what you’re really here to do.
That way, you won’t have to worry about finding satisfying work – because you’ll be the one interviewing employers for work which fits your natural strengths.
(Or, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll be actively creating that type of work for yourself.)
That said, I invite you to stop and see the ultimate truth.
You’re already a genius.
And you already hold the cards needed to play an epic game of your own making.